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The Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico inaugurates two new exhibitions this week
Guests scope the galleries the night of the dual opening.

PONCE, PR.- The Museo de Arte de Ponce’s collection has come to life with vitality composed of the past and the forthcoming. Some three hundred people attended the museum’s inauguration of the two exhibits that will head the bill of the institution’s offerings over the next few months. The first, The Art of Empire: Three Centuries of British Art, presents the museum’s impressive collection of British art in a never before seen manner that also includes contemporary works loaned by Casa del Libro, in San Juan, and private Puerto Rican collections. This exhibition is accompanied by a second display titled Art in Response: Jorge Díaz Torres, a contemporary art installation by young Puerto Rican sculptor Jorge Díaz-Torres.

The attendees, mostly museum members, university students, professors, museum collaborators and special guests, received a unique first look of the exhibitions on the evening of February 23rd, and later attended a cocktail reception in the Puerto Rico Garden.

These two exhibits revitalize the Museo de Arte de Ponce’s collection and serve as a bridge between the past and the upcoming. María Luisa Ferré Rangel, president of the Board of Trustees, stressed this point during her welcome speech.

“Here, we will create culture with universal harmonies, but with Puerto Rican notes,” she said, quoting her grandfather, Luis A. Ferré, the museum’s founder. “We will seek to achieve a fertile synthesis of old and new, of our own and that from abroad, opening new horizons and offering new perspectives on human sensibility, which has neither borders nor nationality.”

The director of the museum, Dr. Agustín Arteaga, also emphasized the idea of a bridge. “We follow the avant-garde spirit of our founder, who appreciated the past but always had his eyes on the future,” stated Arteaga during the ceremony. “In this joint exhibit we see works of the great masters alongside those who are constructing the language of what will be the new classicism, the aesthetic canon, of the future.”

From one island to another
After the official inauguration ceremonies, the galleries opened offering a first view of The Art of Empire: Three Centuries of British Art. The dynamic arrangement includes over sixty works from the museum’s English art collection, plus some forty additional works by internationally renowned contemporary artists such as Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, and Damian Hirst, not to mention dozens of others, on loan from local collectors.

Rather than following a strict timeline, the exhibit is organized thematically, enabling viewers to discover unexpected facets of history. In a single gallery, viewers can see landscapes depicted by the Pre-Raphaelites alongside contemporary landscapes by artist Peter Doig.

“We are shining a new light on our permanent collection,” noted associate curator Pablo Pérez d’Ors, who designed the layout of this particular exhibit. “We wouldn’t be able to appreciate it in this light without all the contemporary art loans we’ve received.”

A mural, inspired by 19th century artist and craftsman William Morris, drawn by university students from Ponce adorns the entrance to the main exhibit. The mural, fruit of another fascinating collaboration with Casa del Libro, in Old San Juan, is accompanied by a loan of illustrated books by Morris.

Reactions to the exhibits were enthusiastic. As Aurimar Cristín, one of the young volunteers that helped create the mural, exited the exhibition, she paused to look at John Everett Millais’s 1857 painting The Escape of a Heretic. “I love this painting; it’s about a sacrifice for love,” she stated, while studying it closely. “Now I understand it better.” Despite over 150 years that separated her from the painting, the exhibition helped her appreciate its message.

After being open for only an hour, The Art of the Empire had attracted people of all ages and from different nations. Such was the case with Cristina Menéndez, a Mexican tourist who decided to attend the opening, where she saw one of the emblematic paintings of the museum’s collection: Flaming June, by Frederic Lord Leighton.

“There are artists I didn’t even know existed, like this one,” she said aiming at the painting, while gazing in fascination. “It’s wonderful.”

The guests also toured the educational gallery created for this exhibition, which presents, in a dynamic and sometimes playful way, additional information on the British Empire. The gallery’s design takes into consideration visitors with special needs, for example, Braille versions of the written materials for the vision-impaired.

The exhibit ends with a gallery dedicated to the monumental painting The Sleep of King Arthur in Avalon (1881) by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones. This large-scale piece, another of Museo de Arte de Ponce’s crown jewels, is presented alongside all the sketches and studies done by the artist, who spent the last 20 years of his life obsessed by this masterpiece. The gallery gives viewers unprecedented access to the artist’s creative mind and his painstaking reconstruction of the medieval legend of King Arthur.

Contemporary responses
With this simultaneous dual opening, there was much to see and enjoy. The museum’s second floor took on new life with the intriguing sculptures of Jorge Díaz-Torres.

This is the second installation in the series Art in Response, whose mission is to commission works by contemporary artists that generate a dialogue with the museum’s permanent collection. On this occasion, Jorge Díaz-Torres was the artist selected by María Arlette de la Serna, museum associate curator. Seven installations emerged from the process: Hyperrealist sculptures made of papier-mâché that play against the classic works of European art.

“Many people react with surprise to Jorge’s pieces,” de la Serna noted. “His sculptures present everyday images, such as highway railings after a crash, or pieces of cars, but very few of them imagine that what they’re seeing as so real is made on a base of what was once wet newspaper! His art is very urban; he gives art back to people through everyday objects,” the curator added.

The people who visited the installations also stopped to look at the permanent collection with a fresh perspective. The striking contrast between periods and styles inevitably piques the curiosity of spectators—which is exactly what Art in Response is trying to achieve.

“No matter what period these artists belong to, no matter how much time has passed between them and us, if you look carefully you’ll see that they have the same concerns we do,” declared Jorge Díaz-Torres about what he discovered during his research on the museum’s collection in preparation for his sculptures.

That dialogue between present and past tells a story about the shared humanity that bonds us over thru the centuries, and links the British Isles with Puerto Rico. That, at least, is the experience that executive director Agustín Arteaga hoped for when he conceived the idea of opening the two exhibits at once.

“I thought it was a way of looking retrospectively through history, and how, many of the concerns of artists in the past are still relevant in the contemporary world”, he said. “This speaks of the liveliness of humankind, and we want to share that with all of Puerto Rico.”

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